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Former Chicago Cop, Shot 28 Times by Police & Found Guilty of Attempted Murder, Has 40-Year Sentence Commuted

Howard Morgan

Illinois Governor Pat Quinn, in his final day as governor, commuted the forty-year sentence of Howard Morgan, a former Chicago police officer who was shot 28 times by four white police officers.

Morgan was accused of shooting the police officers. A jury acquitted him of two counts of aggravated battery and one count of aggravated discharge of a firearm in 2007, but he was put on trial again and found guilty of attempted murder in 2012.

His commutation came along with the commutation of sentences for three other individuals—Anthony Dansberry, Tyrone Hood and Willie Johnson— and a pardon for David Bates, who was exonerated in 1994 and has maintained officers under Chicago Police Commander Jon Burge tortured him into confessing to a crime.

A coalition of activists in Chicago, the Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (CAARPR), credited Quinn for acting in the “face of injustice, injustice that was organized and mobilized by state prosecutors and the police.” The coalition also added that a movement started in response to the killing of Mike Brown in Ferguson deserved credit for “forcing the issue of police crimes and the cases of Howard Morgan and others to the forefront.”

In the morning on February 21, 2005, Morgan was on his way home from working his shift as a patrolman for Burlington Northern Santa Fe railroad. He was pulled over for going the wrong direction on a one-way street. He identified himself as a police officer.

Police officers shot Morgan twenty-one times in the back and seven times in the front. His liver, kidney, diaphragm and colon were injured. He also sustained an open fracture to his left leg and a fracture to his right arm. He managed to survive and was in handcuffs in a hospital bed for months with a $2 million bond.

Morgan’s attorney, Benjamin Crump, has said cops destroyed a van that was shot by bullets that were fired while he was in the hospital shackled to a bed. The police also never produced a bulletproof vest, which they alleged had been hit with a bullet fired by Morgan. They came up with a replica to argue an officer had been shot.

According to the Free Howard Morgan campaign, at his first trial, Morgan was charged with four counts of attempted first-degree murder, three counts of aggravated battery with a firearm and one count of aggravated discharge of a firearm.

“An independent eyewitness” testified that Morgan “never fired a weapon.” The jury acquitted him of two counts of aggravated battery with a firearm and one count of aggravated discharge of a firearm. The jury was hung on the other five counts and the judge declared a mistrial.

Five years later, in 2012, he was put on trial again and then found guilty of attempted murder and, at the age of 60-years-old, sentenced to forty years in prison.

“They were hung on attempted murder, and that’s what boggles the mind,” Crump has said. “If they found him not guilty of not discharging the firearm, and not guilty of battery, how can you find [him] guilty of attempted murder?”

His defense argued he had his due process rights under the Fourteenth Amendment violated and was subjected to “cruel and unusual punishment” under the Eighth Amendment. An appeal was denied on February 21, 2014.

The State’s version of what happened at the traffic stop, which was accepted by the Illinois Appeals Court, is as follows [PDF]:

…[T]wo sets of partners did not know each other prior to that night. Officers Finley and Wrigley heard “a loud report,” which could indicate a gunshot and then observed defendant’s vehicle driving the wrong way down a one-way street with its headlights off. Upon stopping the vehicle, defendant exited the vehicle and was uncooperative and engaged Officer Finley in a physical altercation. Officers White and Olsen corroborated this scene and responded to the altercation. Defendant then pulled a gun from his waistband and fired at all four officers, three were injured. Three of the officers returned fire and defendant was shot several times.

When additional officers and emergency help responded to the scene shortly thereafter, defendant was still combative. Officer Pruger observed defendant still reaching for his gun when he arrived at the scene. The paramedic testified that defendant struck his female partner and was not cooperating to receive medical treatment. Several officers and technicians testified about the location of the bullets and shell casings. The ballistics supported the officers’ testimony about the location of defendant and the officers at the time of the gunfire. Multiple witnesses observed a bullet fall from Officer Wrigley’s jacket when he was obtaining treatment at the hospital…

However, the Free Howard Morgan campaign has emphasized that the State of Illinois never produced twenty-five of the bullets fired to show if he had been shot wit his own gun after police the gun from him. Morgan was apparently “never tested for gun residue” himself so that authorities could confirm whether he fired a weapon at officers.

Morgan testified at trial that officers took his gun from him and he “passed out” after he was shot. A defense witness testified she had not seen a gun in Morgan’s hand but, according to the appellate court, she could not have witnessed the “entire incident” because she was on the ground to avoid being shot.

Howard’s wife, Rosalind, has never believed the prosecutors. “Four white officers and one black Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad police man with his weapon on him — around the corner from our home — and he just decided to go crazy? No. That’s ludicrous.”

She’s also said, “My husband was on his way home, around the corner from our home, I don’t believe, you can never make me believe my husband was driving down a one way street, because this is just inconceivable.”

One year ago, his wife reported on how he was doing in Wixom Prison. “His physical condition is not well at all. And the majority of the time he’s very cold. He has to sleep in his clothes due to the heat in the system there, it’s not warm enough. And when a person has to sleep in their clothes with one blanket on them, it’s very difficult for Mr. Morgan, because he’s not getting the proper medical treatment that he should have. And he tries very hard to persevere.”

Morgan is likely to appeal his conviction and may possibly even seek a pardon that he was innocent and never committed any crimes whatsoever.

CAARPR looks forward to having his voice in their struggle. The coalition declared, “Unlike Michael Brown, Eric Garner, and thousands of African American, Latino, and some white people who have been killed by police violence, Howard Morgan survived.”

“He is now free. His voice will be a powerful one for ending police crimes, for passage of laws establishing democratic civilian control of the police.”

*Photo from the Free Howard Morgan campaign’s website

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Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola

Kevin Gosztola is managing editor of Shadowproof. He also produces and co-hosts the weekly podcast, "Unauthorized Disclosure."